Zakopane itself took us by surprise. Perhaps we expected a sleepy mountain village, half dormant until the winter season. No such thing. Throngs of people bustled around, and the wait for the most popular cable car up the mountain was three hours. The streets looked like the fair was in town, one stall after another selling souvenirs and food, banners and bunting, horses and carriages, restaurants and bars teeming with people on the terraces. Pawel walked us through the main pedestrian street and up to the ticket window for another cable car. He explained that there were several walks at the top, and we settled on a short 2.5kilometre version. We agreed to meet in a few hours.
We have had some “interesting” adventures in getting around on the public transport in Central Europe. Sometimes it seems that the transfer has consumed more of the story than the sights at the destination. Today is one of those days.
Even though Waddy invokes, “We shall never speak of this again,” whenever it seems the conversation might stray to our “no show” private shuttle service in Salzburg, he falls into conversation with a local tour guide who gives him a business card for a similar service in Krakow.
Pawel Szalowski offered to drive us door-to-door from Krakow in Poland to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, in his six month old Mercedes Viano van, with a sightseeing stopover in Zakopane on the way, for less than it would have cost us to do a day trip to Zakopane. And he not only arrived – he arrived on time at 9am just as we has agreed! He even had a bottle of water for each of us.
Heavenly luxury……..sitting up like kings and queens in lounge chair sized seats, facing each other as if we had a private carriage. The singer Sting had recently sat in just the same spot. Now we can say we met him by association.
Zakopane is billed as the winter capital of Poland. It is at the base of Tatra Mountain range, a range that is shared with Slovakia. We are headed to the Slovakian side of the mountains for our next three nights.
On the way to Zakopane we stopped at a woodcarving workshop in a traditional timber village called Chocholow. There the local folk artist carves and sells religious and other wooden figurines, either in raw timber or painted. It was great to find some timber handiwork that we could be certain was made locally. He has also set up a recreation of the internal of a village house from years gone by. His own mini ethnological museum.
Back in the car we continued on to Zakopane. Just outside the city centre we took a look at the largest ski jump in Poland, the Wielka Krokiew, and all agreed you would have to be a skilled skier to attempt it. I haven’t posted a photo as the couple we took do not properly demonstrate the scale of the jump.
I think we took the cable car from Gubalowka. I can never be sure exactly where we are, nor which elevation, but I think we reached around 1126metres. At the top I was expecting a hike across a mountain meadow. I had even changed my shoes for the purpose. No such thing! What a laugh we had. It may well have been a 2.5 kilometre stretch, but it was all asphalted. More souvenir and foods shops lined each side of the road, and horse and carriage rides were going up and down the road between the hordes of people wandering around. It was a wonderful change from stately buildings and churches, but nothing such as I had expected. One couple even had their Saint Bernard dog available for photographs with the tourists (like us). No need for snow rescue in the summer months.
We had a further pleasant surprise when we reached our final destination only an hour or so after leaving Zakopane. We had been expecting a two hour trip. So by 4.30pm we had arrived, taken stock of our surroundings in an almost new small village in Slovakia, and were sitting out in the grassy rear yard drinking beer and vodka and orange.
So that is how easy a travel day can be when you do it in style and luxury. Thank you Pawel!